Abstract

The object of this study is to examine the role and function of women in the performance of the Jewish ritual of male infant circumcision. The approach to the topic is a socio-anthropological one, based on the "practice theory" model. Late Antiquity rabbinic writings are the primary sources of this analysis.

The texts that discuss the legal obligation to perform circumcision are presented first, followed by texts suggestive of women's involvement in the ritual. The question of whether women performed the act of circumcision, either by themselves or with the help of a third party, is considered.

The article concludes that while the sources do not support the assertion that women performed the ritual on a regular basis, they demonstrate something far more socially significant. Women are depicted as circumcisers in special circumstances: to demonstrate support for the rabbinic system, or in situations where their infants' health was at risk. In this latter role, they questioned halakhah and in the process influenced its development. We conclude that the rabbinic corpus shows that through their praxis, women were an active part of the chain of rabbinic culture's evolution and development.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1565-5288
Print ISSN
0793-8934
Pages
pp. 10-38
Launched on MUSE
2006-10-11
Open Access
No
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